Saviour? a new play by award winning journalist and playwright Esther Armah tackles the hot button issue of race and white privilege in the Obama era. Thrown in the mix are a little sex and betrayal which make for one riveting show sure to spark many interesting post performance conversations.
The story is centered on a white liberal anti-racism activist, Bill Hall (Jimmy Aquino) who is suing his former nonprofit for discrimination after a black woman is promoted to CEO over him. His aggressive bulldog of an ambitious African-American attorney Michael Jamal Willams III (Michael Green) is trying to formulate the strongest case so that Hall wins the case and Williams advances in his own career. For both men the case is a must win situation.
The issue of white privilege and well-meaning white liberalism is the centerpiece of the show. In his Brooklyn office, Hall and Williams speak candidly about whether Billy Hall had an expectation of getting the promotion to CEO at his nonprofit because of an inherent sense of entitlement.
While Hall’s anti-racist work allows him to claim he has no “issues” with race it becomes clear as the plot develops that it may not be so simple. The Tea Party isn’t the only segment of American society where issues of racial inequality and animus exist.
In the play, Hall maintains that he earned the promotion at his nonprofit and that his entitlement to this position is based on merits only. Hall says, “leadership is not about black or white, it’s about qualifications.”
When challenged directly by his African-American attorney Hall becomes increasingly defensive, adamant that white privilege is simply not something that applies to him.
Hall is a liberal anti-racism activist who is well respected in his community and his high profile position has garnered him a lot of lucrative speaking engagements and book deals.
Hall had been fighting for many years rights of black and brown people based on the premise that blacks and whites should share power but it appears that he valued this idea of power sharing among the races only up to the moment when that concept had to apply to him.
Once Hall was passed over for the promotion which went to a black women, Billy Hall is forced to live up to his principles.
Armah’s dialogue is exquisitely written but not as to make the conversations between the two characters unbelievable. In fact, their head butting is believable precisely because it is refreshingly honest especially given that race and white privilege are somewhat controversial and not often addressed.
Particularly relevant in the so-called “post-racial” America, a false description, of this period since we elected the first African-American President Barack Obama, Saviour? tackles race and power on the Left, which is rarely if ever done.
Through a witty, fast paced, and intelligent back and forth between Hall and his attorney Williams, Armah breaks down white privilege into digestible nuggets. White privilege is so tough a topic to handle smartly, at times the show is uncomfortably honest with just enough humor to lighten the tension.
The truth is the left has myriad issues with race and thank goodness Esther Armah decided to write a play about it. Mixed in with the topic of race are sex, gender, class, family, loyalty, and ambition just for good measure.